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Study: Jewish summer camps increasingly attuned to special needs kids

NEW YORK (JTA) — A study released by the Foundation for Jewish Camp showed that overnight camps are growing increasingly aware of the needs of children with disabilities.

The organization on Wednesday said the study showed a greater number of camps offered unique services to a larger number of children with special needs than previously expected.

“Camps were serving much larger numbers of children with disabilities than we thought before we did the research,” said Abby Knopp, vice president of program and strategy at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. “Also, the kids that are getting to camp are gaining the benefits; being more connected to Judaism, Israel and other Jewish kids.”

The survey spoke to 828 parents, campers, camp directors and staff from 124 Jewish camps throughout the United States and Canada. About a third of the camps in the study offered a track for children with special needs, and just over half had staff exclusively dedicated to their care. Slightly more than 90 percent of parents of children with disabilities said they were happy with their children’s experience at camp.

Pollsters acknowledged that the results might have been affected by the fact that only parents who enrolled their children at Jewish camps were included in the survey, excluding parents who did not send their kids to camp. Nonetheless, the group said the data was a good sign for Jewish camps.

“We are encouraged to see that families thus far are very happy with their Jewish camp experiences,” said Jeremy Fingerman, the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s CEO. “Now we can concentrate on creating more opportunities for more children to experience a joyful, transformative experience at Jewish camp.”

A group of experts are expected to submit a list of recommendations to the Foundation for Jewish Camp by next winter on how to further improve conditions for children with disabilities.

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